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Rio Grande Canalization

The Rio Grande Canalization Project provides flood protection against a 100-year flood and assures releases of waters to Mexico from the upstream reservoirs in accordance with the 1906 Convention between the United States and Mexico.

The Rio Grande Canalization Project was authorized by the Act of June 4, 1936, 49 Stat. 1463, Public Law No.648 to facilitate compliance with the Convention concluded with Mexico on May 21, 1906, (TS 455) providing for the equitable division of the waters of the Rio Grande, and to properly regulate and control, to the fullest extent possible, the water supply for use in the two countries.  The Act authorized construction, operation and maintenance of a project in accordance with the plan in the Engineering Report of December 14, 1935.

History and Development
After the Elephant Butte Reservoir began storing water on the Rio Grande in 1915, the reduced downstream flow resulted in accumulated sediments and vegetation in the river’s natural, meandering channel.  With a shallowed channel, floodwaters from tributaries to the Rio Grande (downstream of Elephant Butte Dam) were able to overtop the banks and impact the adjoining region.  Further, the accumulation was worsened by private landowners making unauthorized diversions along the river during times of low-flow releases.  The combined effect made for a difficult task in regulating releases from upstream reservoirs to downstream users in both the U.S. and Mexico.  At the request of local interest groups, Congress authorized an engineering investigation in 1935.  As a result of this report, in June 1936 Congress authorized the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Rio Grande Canalization Project.

The Rio Grande Canalization project was constructed between 1938 and 1943 in southern New Mexico and far west Texas.  It includes a normal-flow rectified river channel within a leveed floodway.  The project extends 105.6 miles (170 km) along the Rio Grande from Percha Diversion Dam in Caballo, NM (located 2.0 miles downstream of Caballo Dam) to American Dam in El Paso, Texas.  The normal flow channel has a depth of 3 to 5 feet, a width ranging from 110 to 500 feet, and a capacity ranging from 2,500 cfs above Leasburg Dam to 1,200 cfs at El Paso.  The floodway varies between 50 and 2100 feet in width.  The bordering levees range from 3 to 15 feet in height, and have a total length of 130 miles – 57 miles on the west side and 73 miles on the east side.  In some areas, the floodway is bounded by natural high ground, and in the section near Canutillo, Texas a railroad embankment forms the east levee.  No project works were built along an 8.6-mile stretch in Selden Canyon between the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys in New Mexico, where the river is confined within the canyon and flow control works are not needed.  The project includes 27 bridge culverts in the levees over water drains or wasteways that discharge into the Rio Grande.  There are 58 other miscellaneous structures in the project.

Project Design Detail

Doña Ana County Flood Control Levees Fact Sheet

El Paso County Flood Control Levees Fact Sheet

Design Flows:

  • Rincon Valley – 13,000 cfs just below Percha Dam, increasing to 22,000 cfs at Selden Canyon due to arroyo inflows.
  • Mesilla Valley – 17,000 cfs below Leasburg Dam, decreasing to 12,000 cfs at El Paso due to attenuation.

FLO-2D Model Development Below Caballo Dam - URGWOM - Final Report on FLO-2D Model Development (5.6 MB - ZIP Icon 4.3 MB)

Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project - Levee Rehabilitation Plan, August 2006 - ZIP Icon (800 KB)

Canutillo Floodwall Document - acrobat icon (< 1MB)